Martin Garrix is no stranger to the UAE. In fact, last year he was central to a great Abu Dhabi music rescue mission.
When American rock band Foo Fighters cancelled their Abu Dhabi Formula One concert the day before — owing to a medical emergency reportedly involving late drummer Taylor Hawkins — promoter Flash Entertainment was given the unenviable task of finding a suitable last-minute replacement.
And it was the Dutch DJ who flew in just in the nick of time.
Speaking to The National ahead of his Dubai concert at the Coca-Cola Arena on Friday, followed by a New Year’s Eve performance at Al Dana Amphitheatre in Bahrain, Garrix recounts receiving the call while on a plane heading into the UAE to support his friend, the eventual race winner and season champion Max Verstappen.
"I got this text from my team that said: 'Yo, are you willing to perform in Abu Dhabi tomorrow?'" Garrix says.
"I was like, 'Sure why not,' since I was going to be there anyway."
That was the easy part.
As Garrix describes, quickly assembling the crew responsible for his high-tech shows was the real challenge.
"What people don't know is that if you see only Martin Garrix on stage, there are 30 people around and involved with the lights, the lasers, the production and the safety measures," he says.
"Normally, before we go on tour, we do months of pre-production work to make sure everything is ready.
“This was especially difficult because it was still during the height of Covid and we had to get PCR tests and so many other things.
“I still don't know how we managed to get everyone flown in from different cities to do the show. It shows how great the team is in that we managed to pull the show off on time."
Garrix says the Abu Dhabi concert remains one of his favourites, due to Verstappen clinching the race and title in thrilling fashion hours earlier.
"I remembered waking up the next day and I was in disbelief," Garrix says.
"Within 24 hours we were booked for a show, played to nearly 40,000 people, saw Max win and partied in the villa until the sun came up. It was all very special."
And Garrix returns to the UAE a winner himself.
In October, DJ Mag named him the number one DJ in the world in its annual Top 100 ranking for 2022. Garrix also topped the list for three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018.
His popularity stems from his well-received live shows and growing string of anthems including the hits Animals, In the Name of Love and Scared to Be Lonely — the latter being a collaboration with Dua Lipa.
"I am super excited to be back at number one. But for me, the list is interesting because it is full of people that I look up to," he says.
“For example, the reason why I am DJing is because of [15th ranked] Tiesto. So for me to be higher than him really doesn't make sense.
“But I am super grateful for the support and what's really important is the energy at the shows and the interaction of the fans. The list can just be a list."
Alongside Garrix's UAE shows, he is performing in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia soon, having played in Qatar earlier this month. As a result, he is excited more than ever about dance music's growth in the region.
“I remember coming here for the first time in 2015 at a club in Dubai and now I am playing at these crazy festivals with hundreds of thousands of people," he says.
"It is a really cool experience to feel like you are part of something that is being built."
Martin Garrix is set to play at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena on Friday; show starts at 9pm; tickets from Dh175; coca-cola-arena.com